How to Train Your Dog to Protect Goats

How to Train Your Dog to Protect Goats
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon4-6 Months
Work training category iconWork

Introduction

Running a farm can be challenging enough, even if it is just a small hobby farm with a few goats on it. When you have goats, or for that matter any other type of livestock, you should also plan to have at least one dog trained to protect them from strangers and many other forms of predators. There are many breeds who make great guard dogs, those most commonly used are herding animals such as German shepherds, Great Pyrenees, Australian shepherds, and Welsh Corgis.

Dogs that are particularly good at guarding or protecting tend to be very stubborn, independent, and wary of strangers and other animals. Yet at the same time, they will form a strong bond with the livestock you place under their care. Once this bond has been formed, your dog will instinctively move to protect them. However, you will still need to train your dog to protect your goats. 

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Defining Tasks

The earlier you start to train your pup to protect your goats, the better. In fact, the prime age to start letting your pup build a bond with your goats is between 8 and 16 weeks of age. By letting him grow up around your goats and especially any kids, the stronger his bond will be. A good way to do this is by using a bonding pen where there is a protective area your pup can run to if he feels threatened. The idea is that, in time, your dog will start to see the goats under his protection as part of his "pack."

Dogs have a natural instinct to protect the members of his pack and by turning your goats into his "pack", your dog will be more diligent and ready to protect them from any type of danger. Be patient, this training is going to take some time and effort. The most important thing to remember is that there is a significant risk of injury to your dog or your goats. 

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Getting Started

Before you can start to train your pup to protect your goats, he needs to have mastered the basic commands including 'down', 'sit', 'stay', and 'come', as you will need to be able to use them to control him during and after the training has been completed. When it comes to supplies, you don't need much:

  • Leash: A long leash is a good idea.
  • Treats: As rewards.
  • Goats: A small number of goats that are already comfortable around dogs.
  • Bonding pen: You can make this yourself, just be sure there is a safe place for your pup to go if he feels threatened.
  • Time and patience: Just like any other type of training, you are going to need plenty of both.

The most important thing to remember is that during training there is a significant risk of injury to your dog or your goats. Be sure to keep a close eye on both and intervene before anything can happen. If your dog is injured, you may not be able to train him to work with the goats or it will be much harder. 

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The Create a Bond Method

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1

Set up a pen

Set up a pen in your barn for your pup to spend time in when you are not available to supervise him around your goats.

2

Let him acclimatize

Give your pup plenty of time to get used to the goats, their smells, their sounds, and just their presence. He can even touch noses with them once everyone gets brave and close enough for this to happen.

3

Playtime

Spend some time playing with your pup in an enclosure with the goats, letting him burn off any excess energy and calming down. Then it's time to get down to business.

4

Time alone

By now your dog and goats should be used to being around each other and you should be able to leave them alone together. Keep a close eye on him to ensure he does not misbehave. By now he should be more prone to protect his "friends" than bother them.

5

Time to test him

With the goats out in their pen and your dog in with them, have a friend he doesn't know come up to the fence and make lots of noise. Your dog should naturally move to protect his "pack" and start barking at the intruder. When he does, be sure to praise and reward him. Keep repeating this process over the course of several months and you should end up with a valuable member of your family that will protect his flock at all costs.

The Make Friends Method

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Working together

This training method assumes you already have a trained guard dog or a friend you can borrow one from. This will allow you to put the two of them together with a small flock of your goats in a pen.

2

Make friends

The trained dog will help your pup to become used the goats and how to behave around them. The trained dog will not allow your pup to "bother" the goats. Do this in a small enclosed pen.

3

Keep your pup near you

No matter where you go on your farm or what you are doing, take your pup with you. This will help him to get used to the normal sights and sounds so that he can differentiate between what is normal and what is not.

4

Make use of his natural instincts

Your pup has a natural instinct to protect his pack. By allowing him to bond with your goats, you are essentially giving him his own "pack" to protect, all you have to do is reinforce the behavior.

5

Stranger danger

Now that your pup is used to being around the goats along with all of the sights and sounds of the farm, its time to finish the training. This is where you have strangers come up to the farm and approach the goats. At this point, his instinct to protect should kick in and he should start keeping a close eye on the stranger. Repeat this until he will do this every time a strange person or animal approaches. Be sure to use lots of treats and praise to encourage this behavior.

The Social Experiment Method

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In the pen

When your pup reaches approximately eight weeks of age, start putting him in a pen along with a small number of your calmest goats.

2

Leave them alone

It might not seem like a good idea at first, but put your pup in the pen with 3 to 6 goats and leave them alone. This "bonding" time is vital as it will give all of them time to get used to each other and become "friends."

3

Move to a new address

Once they have bonded, move your pup and his new friends to a larger enclosure with the rest of your goats. If your pup slips out of the enclosure following his natural instinct to explore, take him back and encourage him to remain with the goats. You may need to use a few treats to reach the point at which he doesn't stray.

4

Repeat

You may have to repeat this part of the training over several days until he makes the choice to stay with "his" flock. Once this happens, be sure to offer lots of praise and treats. Once he learns to be a true protector, going out and patrolling his borders is an accepted behavior as he will always have the safety of his flock on his mind.

5

Try with strangers

The final stage of this training is to have a few people your pup doesn't know come to your farm and approach the goats. Your dog should move towards them and bark at them, scaring them off. Have your friends make a hasty retreat when he barks, tell him to 'hush', and then heap on the praise and treats.

Written by PB Getz

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 11/17/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Dottie

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Maremma Sheepdog

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4 month

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I have a problem with my maremma puppy playing with chickens and chasing. I want to learn how to stop this behaviour and get her to start protecting them. My chickens are free range so I cannot always watch the puppy and chickens.

Oct. 16, 2022

Dottie's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, At this age pup needs more interactions with the chickens to be on a long training leash and not left alone with them yet. Using the long training leash, you can correct pup for any chasing attempts and reward calmness around the birds. Unlike large livestock, many livestock guarding dogs won't naturally bond with birds and guard due to that same family type bond. Often chickens are guarded on a property because pup sees them as part of the overall property boundaries, and they guard everything within that property, not because of a bond like with large livestock, but due to protectiveness of the property. This protectiveness often develops more as pup gets older. The typically approach to raising a puppy from a young age with the animals you want them to later guard, like with sheep, doesn't tend to work as well with chickens. Pup is most likely to chew and harass the chickens - making pup a threat instead of help with the birds. I would work on teaching pup Leave It around the chickens, and correcting any harassing on a long leash, either confining pup, keeping them with you, or having them stay inside your home or a kennel until trained around the birds - or stay with animals they are bonded to if they have been raised with a larger animal and are safe with them - such as sheep. Then spend intentional time training the puppy to leave the birds alone with you around, or setting up fencing for the birds that you can easily move around for foraging. The fencing alone, along with your instruction when you are able to work no training, should be enough to keep a puppy this age away from the birds, allowing them to still roam the property and develop a good sense of loyalty to the overall property, which includes your birds for later protection. You can also purchase pet barrier device for outside use, and place that inside the area where the chicken fence is, moving it when you move the fencing around for the birds. The device will correct pup automatically with pup wearing the corresponding collar, if pup tries to break into the birds' fencing area. This will only work if the birds are fenced though, since the birds will roam away from the pet barrier device without a chicken wire fence. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Oct. 17, 2022

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Captain

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German Shepherd

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3 Months

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My dog if am with him in the farm he behaves normal but when am ought he troubles my goats and chickens

May 9, 2022

Captain's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Healer, At this age pup cannot be left alone with the farm animals. Pup needs to be confined when you are away, given instruction and supervision when you are around to help him learn the farm rules, then once pup has matured a bit and learned only good things, pup will be able to be around the animals more as an adult. If left alone with the animals without you there to intervene that could lead to long term bad habits that make it extremely difficult for pup to ever be left alone with them. It's best to prevent the bad habit in the first place while at the same time exposing pup to them with you there to teach good habits - which will become the long term habit later, instead of that bad habit becoming the long term habit. German Shepherds are not commonly used as livestock guardians in the since that they bond with the animals and protect them due to being raised with them. Shepherds tend to guard livestock because they are territorial and are wanting to run everything out of their territory. Therefore, they are often trained to leave animals alone on the farm, rather than trying to bond them with the animals, teaching boundaries as they grow, so they will roam their boundary to keep everything that shouldn't be there out of the boundary - which has the effect of helping to protect the animals within the territory too. The basic instincts related to property guarding with a breed like a Shepherd or Grate Dane versus a livestock guarding who bonds with the livestock such as a Great Pyrenees as often different. Occasionally you will see exceptions though, since German Shepherds are bred to be very multi-functional in their tasks. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

May 9, 2022


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